I Kind of Believe In: Yesterday

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Caution: spoilers

Yesterday is based on this intriguing premise: What if the whole world forgot about the Beatles, except for one guy? Like most movies with an intriguing premise, the challenge becomes making the premise stretch the length of a feature film and have something to say besides, “Isn’t this premise cool?” 

The final product is something that has, outside of its premise, three things going for it, and three major problems. 

The Good:

1. Winning performances. Himesh Patel as Jack and Lily James as Ellie are both charming in their roles and have the chemistry to sell their romance. The supporting cast is quirky and adds to the hyper-reality of the film. Even Ed Sheeran, I have decided after much thought, does a good job at portraying the worst version of Ed Sheeran. 

2. There is occasionally great directing from Danny Boyle. A few sequences have a perfect balance of humor and heart and creative cinematography. And this is more to the credit of the screenplay then the director, but the film goes out of its way to give Jack a well-rounded, fleshed out adult life that feels more substantial than most protagonists get. In other words, I believe that Jack has a real job he goes to and friends he has long histories with and neighbors he sees on the regular. It goes a great distance in making him likable and making the world of the story feel familiar, even when it strays into magical-realism. 

3. The Beatles’ music is great. It’s hard to mess that up. 

The Bad:

1. That said, the film kinda messes it up. Not the music itself, but everything else that was significant about the Beatles. By focusing solely on the music and not the context of how and when the music was made, or the lives of the men who made it, the film never comes to a clear consensus on why the Beatles are legendary. 

The Beatles made history because they interacted with history. They were controversial and activists and innovators. Some people argue that art isn’t inherently political, and good music should be timeless. Perhaps that is true for some musicians, but it’s not for the Beatles. So yes, while the movie is right in that music brings us together, the narrative surrounding that music does just as much work in bringing people together (or driving them apart). 

2. The commentary on the music business is broad and outdated. The comedy goes from witty satire to zany comedy in seconds, and the inconsistency doesn’t work, ultimately not saying anything of substance. Kate McKinnon gets a few good zingers in as a music producer, but even she can’t save the underbaked sell-out side plot. 

3. The love story is cute but weak. Ellie is a perfect example of a very real phenomenon where (typically) a woman becomes a guy’s girlfriend or wife in all the ways except the title, and he benefits from her love and affection (and service) without committing to her in return or giving anything up. She waits for him to define the relationship and move forward, but he never does because why should he? He can just keep her in perpetual relationship limbo. 

Ideally, Ellie is a character that women in a similar situation could watch and say, “wow, I’m in a relationship that is likewise very one-sided and I should treat myself with more respect and expect more from him.” But I don’t see this happening. Why? Because there aren’t any consequences for Jack for treating Ellie this way. After he realizes the errors of his way (which only comes after she goes through a lot of pain to finally confront him about it) he announces his love for her in a big, grand, public gesture that puts her on the spot (which you should never do without permission). She accepts it, and so he doesn’t have to do any work of rebuilding trust. In the end, he gets everything he wanted, including a relationship with her that is built off of years of her following him around, catering to his every need, being constantly-available emotional support, being his biggest fan, and waiting for him to make a move. Her character is not made for women to relate to, because she is framed solely through the male gaze. She’s the perfect girlfriend, a prize for Jack to finally accept after he’s done one good deed (tell the world he was lying about the Beatles). 

At one point in the film, Kate McKinnon’s music producer character says of a song: “I hated it but wasn’t interested enough to listen to it again to find out why.” That’s brutal. And it’s kinda true of this movie. I didn’t hate Yesterday, not by a long shot. But Yesterday loves the Beatles and romantic relationships without knowing why, and until it goes back and finds out, there’s not much there, and it’s not interesting enough for me to revisit. 

 

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Documentary Films to Create Cinematic Universe

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New York City, NY- A press release by Focus Features announces that the film distribution company will be partnering with multiple acclaimed documentary filmmakers to create a new cinematic universe. 

“Between February of 2020 and June of 2024, we’ll be in Part One of our six-part cinematic universe roll-out,” the press release said. “Each of the twelve documentaries that will be released in this time will have a larger storyline that tells a sweeping, yet intimate, story about mankind.”

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and 20 Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville told reporters, “All future documentaries from Focus Features will take place in the same cinematic universe, with crossover from different characters in each film.” Neville is reportedly going to direct the first film that will kick off the cinematic universe. 

Scott Hamilton Kennedy, best known for his Oscar-nominated documentary feature The Garden told reporters, “Cinematic universes are the newest thing. They’ve been a gamechanger, and we want to get on board.” Kennedy is another one of the first directors to contribute to the cinematic universe. His documentary, Ramsey, about the life and career of TV personality and 16-Michelin Star chef and restauranteur Chef Gordon Ramsey, will be released in August 2020 as the third installment.

“Part of my role is not only to tell a story that can stand on its own, but also weave together the previous two films and then set up the next storyline,” he explained. “The film coming after mine [the fourth installment in the cinematic universe] is a documentary about Sojourner Truth. It’s going to be told using old letters from her and some animation, really cutting edge stuff. Since they are a part of the same cinematic universe, though, we want Sojourner to make an appearance in my Gordon Ramsey documentary, to tease the next film and to give the fans something they’ve always wanted.”

When asked if seeing a CGI replica of Sojourner Truth be a cameo as a customer in one of Ramsey’s restaurant was something audiences have, in fact, “always wanted,” Kennedy said yes. “There’s going to be an in-universe explanation for why these two characters are interacting,” he added. “I can’t give too much away, but there is an organization that is bringing all of these figures together.”

“What is the point of the documentary cinematic universe?” Focus Features chairman Peter Kujawski wrote in a statement. “The point is to get audiences, who traditionally have overlooked documentaries, to give the form another chance. Watching a documentary can be really exciting when you realize it’s telling a larger story.”

The first film of the cinematic universe, Mammoth: Discovered, about the history of woolly mammoths, directed by Luc Jacquet (March of the Penguins) will be released on February 7th, 2020. It is rumored that the woolly mammoths in the film will introduce a secret time-traveling organization into the cinematic universe, which will be apart of the overarching storyline. 

The cinematic universe has no official title yet, but has been running under the unofficial name the “DCEU” (documentary cinematic expanded universe). 

 

[Editorial Note: This post is satire, and is thus fake, and exists basically to make you laugh]

The Horror of Following up a Massive Sucess: IT Chapter Two

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The first IT movie is the highest-grossing R-rated horror film with $700.4 million at the worldwide box office. Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the movie became a critical and commercial success. The search for an adult cast to play the main characters- aka “the Losers”- was highly publicized and scrutinized. With a cast evenly divided between marquee stars and unknowns, IT Chapter Two has a lot riding on its shoulders. 

Did it succeed in bringing this grand epic to a satisfying conclusion? 

Yes and no. 

IT Chapter Two has more scares (in part because of its nearly three-hour running time) but they’re different than the first. For one, there is less Pennywise, and instead, IT takes different forms. The different forms are usually grotesque, vaguely-human forms that do gross things. The body horror element freaked me out, but some of the people I went with found it funny, so it just depends on your sense of humor. They’re creative, but not as psychologically disturbing as the first film. 

Besides the scares, there’s not much else that this second movie does that’s different than the first. When it comes to the character arcs, plot, and tone of the movie, everything is just about the same. In the first film, we meet the characters individually, then the team comes together, they split up for individual sequences where IT reveal more about their characters, and then they come together in the sewers to try to kill Pennywise. That’s exactly what happens in this film too. Add in all the flashbacks and callbacks to the first film, and this second feels like it’s just an expensive remake with an older cast. 

Readers of the book will no doubt be disappointed. The book spends time establishing the Losers in their adult lives, something the film doesn’t have time to do well. The book also develops the theme of the adult Losers losing their memories and having to re-learn about Derry and Pennywise (the film only tangentially explores this theme). By doing this, the reader understands how the Loser’s childhood traumas influenced their adult selves and how that changes their relationship to IT and to each other. To not have that in this second film creates a barrier between the audience and characters, and weakens the message the filmmakers are going for. 

Leah Schnelback writes in her excellent review of the film for Tor, “Your real life can turn into a horror story any time—the check didn’t clear, the doctor needs to speak with you in person… You remember again that your carefully constructed life is an illusion that can crack apart without warning. When we go to a horror movie we pay to have this experience…Part of the contract is that the nightmare moments might slip the bounds of reality—that we’ll become children again, in thrall to a fairy tale full of monsters and things that can’t possibly happen. This is what IT is about… The opening half-hour of the film is almost completely taken up with human monsters—psychotic homophobes, abusive husbands… This group of adults who have all experienced real-life horrors have to learn to be kids again so they can defeat a mythological monster.”

That opening half-hour is not enough time to explore these adult lives, and that blunder plagues the entire film. The “real-life horrors” feel inconsequential because we barely get to see them before we get to Pennywise.

It sure doesn’t help also that while the adult cast is incredibly well-matched with their teenage counterparts in terms of looks and mannerisms, they lack the same chemistry as the younger group. This is in part because they don’t spend that much time together in the movie. The plot keeps separating them, making the scenes when they are together and are talking about their close bond ring false. 

Also ringing false is the film’s explanations of Pennywise. Instead of letting him be terrifying because he’s mysterious and unknowable, the film tries to explain the mythology behind Pennywise and the demon-alien thing it comes from, the IT. It makes the plot more convoluted and the film fails to justify why we even need to understand his origins in the first place. In some cases it’s okay not to explain “the why”.  

~

IT Chapter Two starts out with a voiceover from Mike talking about how memory is selective and we are often just as much the things we make ourselves forget as we are the things we choose to remember. The whole film ruminates on the idea of memory, with the adult Losers spending the majority of the running time trying to reconnect and remember their childhood selves. 

There’s something interesting here about how it takes courage to confront the memories we’d rather forget, and how we aren’t fully ourselves until we can see all of ourselves. It’s only then when we can truly connect to other people. But because we don’t get a sense of how the Losers forgot their childhoods in the first place, or what they do with themselves after they kill Pennywise for good, and they spend little time connecting to each other in meaningful ways, this entire theme falls flat. Instead, we just get some new scares and scenes meant to remind us of the first movie. There’s very little substance. 

It seems like the knowledge that the first film was a success is what has kept this film from succeeding. The unassuming innocence of the first is lost, and this second entry feels like it’s trying too hard and won’t stray far enough to be unique. 

Yet, I have to admit, I had a great time watching it. It was the perfect escapist adrenaline kick for me with scares that were scary but not too scary, and not disturbing enough to stick with me late at night. But that also means nothing from the film is going to stick with me, and that’s a shame.

-Madeleine D.

Interview with Filmmaker Crystal Kayiza

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From July 11-15, the Circle Cinema, Tulsa’s independent theater and gallery, hosted its second annual film festival to celebrate 91 years. The festival featured a large variety of films, but the best (and admittedly only) one I saw was the film Edgecombe, with a Q&A afterward with director Crystal Kayiza.

Crystal screened Edgecombe at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and participated as a Sundance fellow. Crystal started her filmmaking journey as a student at Jenks High School. It was there she got her first award, a regional professional Heartland Emmy in 2012 for her short documentary All That Remains, which is about Boley, Oklahoma, one of the last all-black towns in America. Since then she has been interested in community portraits that focus on, in her words, “the numerous ways black folks overcome across generations.”

Edgecombe is the latest of her work in this trend. The fifteen-minute film follows Shaka Jackson, Doris Stith, and Deacon William Joyner, three residents of Tarboro, North Carolina, in Edgecombe County. Jackson is on probation and is working at an Applebee’s, and the story weaves his and Stith and Joyner’s individual stories together to show how Edgecombe and its people continue to navigate both systematic and personal struggle.

Crystal learned of Edgecombe while working at the American Civil Liberties Union where she focused on the criminalization of poverty. The ACLU helped her figure out exactly what stories she was drawn to. “It was like a two-year extension of my education,” Crystal says of the work. “So when I left to start filmmaking full time I felt a lot of confidence in my own voice as a filmmaker.”

Crystal was actually my camp liaison when I attended Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain a few summers ago for film, and we both studied filmmaking under our teacher Clifton Raphael, who served as the moderator at the Q&A following Edgecombe‘s screening and guest reviewed on this blog a few weeks ago.

When she came to Tulsa to premiere her film Crystal generiously took time to be interviewed by me about the piece. This is a highly condensed version of our conversation, but I think even in this small snippet it is clear how thoughtful Crystal is about her films, the impact she makes both in front of the camera and behind it, and that she is an exciting new voice in filmmaking. If you’ve ever been curious about documentary filmmaking, Crystal has some unique insights.

You aren’t from North Carolina or Edgecombe. How did being an outsider affect your perspective as you made the film? 

I think one thing that’s important is being really, really aware and intentional about how you take up space and also being super-open to learning and not making assumptions about what your own work should look like. I was introduced to [Edgecombe County] through the issues I was working on at the ACLU. That was my entry point, but just because it was my entry point doesn’t mean it’s necessarily how I should be grounded in the space, right? Talking to Shaka, Ms. Stith, and Deacon Joyner and having their vision about their world inform the end product is part of what really interests me about nonfiction work.

What is it like to become close to the three main characters and then have to move on?

I think there’s this strange relationship built between filmmakers and people in projects. You build this relationship that is so fragile in the sense that it can be super-temporary or lead to really long-term communication.

When I was in the edit, I was very careful to be in communication with Shaka, Ms. Doris and Deacon Joyner and made sure to send them the film before it was screened. The language that is used around describing them is something I’m also very sensitive too and I’ve had situations where I’ve felt that their characters and identities weren’t being portrayed in a way that I think is inclusive or equitable to the story, so also protecting them. There’s a trust and respect that’s built, and part of maintaining that isn’t just during production.

Tell me about your choice to often use close-ups on your characters’ faces.

During the filming, there was a part where I was in a church where a lot of the women worshipping there looked back at the camera. I’m very interested in breaking the gaze between the audience and the people in the film… breaking the myth that there’s no power dynamic between myself as the director and the people that are in front of the camera. I think portraits can be a powerful way to acknowledge that there is a gaze, but it can be reciprocated.

What inspires you outside of filmmaking?

Music for sure. Reading… I think it’s really important to engage with other media, regardless of if it’s something you’re passionate about or pursuing yourself. I just find that most of my leisure time is spent thinking about film. Oh! And yeah, eating. I love food, I’m a huge foodie. When I was in Mississippi me and the Director of Photography would go to all the historic places and ask for [food] recommendations. It’s an important part of production. You can’t undervalue the importance of having a good meal and learning about a space based on what people eat.

What do you want Tulsans who see Edgecombe at the Circle Cinema Film Festival to take away?

The way communities operate are very intergenerational, and are reinventions of previous lives and spaces, and I think that very much exists in Tulsa. Examining the histories that we do and do not talk about is something that is really important to me and something I try to explore in the film. So take a moment to respect and acknowledge [Edgecombe], but then look home and see what histories and spaces we devalue and which ones we uphold.

I’m really excited to show it at Circle. The first time I ever watched indie film was at Circle Cinema, so it’s really exciting to come back home and screen it. Out of all the screenings I’ve done so far it’s probably going to be one of my favorite experiences because showing it in spaces that have really informed your own work is always a really cool experience.

-Madeleine D.

 

P.S,

For those living in Tulsa who are interested in the arts and culture scene, I highly recommend Time + Temp, a monthly email newsletter edited by Liz Blood, former editor of the Tulsa Voice and a Tulsa Arts Fellow. The newsletter typically includes an interview with local artists like Crystal, stories about new sightseeing attraction, two restaurant/food recommendations, and a couple other special surprises each month. I had the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes on the newsletter this summer and saw just how much attention and passion is put into it. You can expect it in your inbox at the beginning of each month, always free. I’ve really enjoyed reading it, and I think you might too. Subscribe below:

https://hi-in.facebook.com/RootTulsa/posts/523108884767090

Everything You Need to Know About Marvel’s Phase 4 (Part 2)

May 2021- May 2022

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In October of 2016 I broke down the future of Marvel movies and my predictions for what then was Phase 3. I was right about some things, wrong about others. But now at Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios announced their Phase 4 slate of films and Disney+ shows (Disney’s new streaming service, coming November 12th). Unlike the Netflix-Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Disney+ shows will tie into the movie universe, making all of our wallets bemoan. 

If you want to know all you have to look forward to for the next few years (Phase 4 will cover 2020 to 2022 with ten projects in all), then I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. This is part two of two, covering the two films and three Disney+ show that will take us from spring 2021 though to the fall, and then presumably Phase 5 will start in spring 2022. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessImage result for phase 4 marvel logos

  • May 7, 2021
  • Directed by Scott Derrickson
  • Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Elizabeth Olson as Scarlet Witch

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness will come right off the heels of the Disney+ show WandaVision. Marvel Studios president Kevin Fiege has stated before that Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch practices the same magic as Doctor Strange, it’s just raw and untrained. With Elizabeth Olson set to co-star here, it’s presumable that Wanda may be Doctor Strange’s protege in his sequel- and maybe his villain, too.  

There is certainly precedent for this in the comics. Depending on the events of WandaVision, this movie could adapt Wanda’s two biggest comic book storylines. In the first storyline, Wanda has been driven mad from the loss of Vision (who you remember was recently killed by Thanos in Infinity War. Could all of WandaVision then just be an illusion, and in the movie Wanda is “woken up” from her dream and realizes Vision is truly gone?). Wanda is further driven mad by the loss of the two children she had created out of her magic. In her madness, she kills Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange has to defeat her. The Avengers plan to get rid of Wanda for good, so her brother Pietro (played in the movies by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who died in Avengers: Age of Ultron) convinces her to create an alternative reality she can live in instead, where her family and other mutants are rulers. 

This became the comic book storyline House of M, which ends with Wanda, thinking that being a mutant has caused all of the pain in her life, whispers her infamous phrase, “No more mutants,” and turns all of the world’s mutants into regular humans. This storyline is now possible with Disney’s acquisition of Fox, which has up to this point had ownership of Marvel’s mutant characters (Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, etc.). This could be the entry point for mutants into the MCU. 

It’s been promised that this will be Marvel’s first “horror film,” so hopefully they will keep their word and go for as creepy and horror-y as a PG-13 MCU movie can get. Director Scott Derickson is a horror director after all (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), and I trust if he is allowed to, he can truly elevate the material. 

There have been hints of a multiverse in the MCU before, but the title sure indicates that this could be our first full-fledged multiverse movie. A multiverse would allow for other Avengers to show up, including dead ones, so if RDJ or Chris Evans are wanting to come back, this could be their chance. Suddenly this feels a lot less like a Doctor Strange film and more like Avengers 4.5. 

Loki Show

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  • Spring 2021
  • Reportedly 6 episodes, each an hour long
  • Rick and Morty writer Michael Waldron will be showrunner. 
  • Starring Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and hopefully some other people

The show will pick up at the point in Endgame when Loki steals the tesseract. It will follow his time-hopping adventures as he faces various foes. The show will premiere ten years after Tom Hiddleson debuted as the character in 2011’s Thor, so I hope the show will give the actor new ways to keep the charismatic trickster fresh. 

WHAT IF …? Show

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  • Summer 2021
  • A giant roster of actors will reprise their roles from the movies in the show through voicework
  • Number of episodes unknown, although I’ve heard rumors of ten. 

Based on the comic book series of the same name, What If…? will show pivotal moments in the MCU and present hypothetical outcomes for if things had gone a bit differently, a How it Should Have Ended in a way. The animated series will have voice work done by all of the same actors from the movies. The only episode confirmed so far is one exploring what would have happened if Peggy Carter had become Captain American instead of Steve Rogers. Two other rumored episodes will cover what would have happened if Loki had gotten Mjolnir instead of Thor, and what if Killmonger had killed T’Challa and become the permanent king. The series will be narrated by Watcher Uatu, played by Jeffrey Wright. Watcher Uatu has not been introduced into the MCU before. 

Hawkeye Show

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-Fall 2021

-Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, presumably others 

In characteristic fashion, Hawkeye is last, here as the last Disney+ show of Phase 4. 

This series will be based on the acclaimed and fan-favorite comic book run by Matt Fraction and David Aja of the same name. This run focused on the relationship between Clint and his mentee, Kate Bishop, who takes up the Hawkeye mantle. In the comics Kate is a member of the Young Avengers team, so expect for Marvel to use her to introduce this team into the movies (or do it in a show, Defenders style). This show will probably show Clint handing over the bow and arrow over to Kate, and thus finally releasing Jeremy Renner from this franchise and into that sweet, sweet void

Thor: Love and Thunder

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  • November 5, 2021
  • Directed and written by Taika Waititi
  • Starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and returning after a two-movie absence, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster/The Mighty Thor

Taika Waititi will return after directing Thor: Ragnarok to write and direct Thor’s fourth solo film. Thor will become the first of the original Avengers to get a fourth film, with the others being regulated to, at most, a trilogy. But despite the title, Thor: Love and Thunder looks to be a lot more about its supporting characters than just Thor. 

For starters, Natalie Portman will return after a long absence as Dr. Jane Foster. Jane was Thor’s love interest in the first two films, then unceremoniously dumped offscreen before the third. Portman tried to negotiate changes to Jane’s role for the second film, Thor: The Dark World, and wasn’t given any, and her lackluster enthusiasm for the series by that film was obvious. However, she’s now being given a much juicier role as she gets to help adapt the comic storyline of Mighty Thor. 

Jane Foster’s Mighty Thor storyline is this: Jane Foster has a terminal diagnosis of breast cancer. Thor has become unworthy, so he’s stripped of the Thor title (his actual name is Odinson, and Thor is a mantle, like Captain America or Black Widow, which can be given and taken on by others. Hopefully his unworthiness in the movie is not connected with his weight gain from Endgame). Anyways, Jane Foster takes up the mantle, saying that “there must always be a Thor.” She is deemed worthy enough to pick up Mjolnir. Whenever Jane uses Mjolnir though, it heightens her cancer, literally killing her as she saves others. Talk about sacrifice. As for Thor/Odinson himself, he’ll be rediscovering himself and learning how to be worthy again and finding his identity outside of being king of Asgard. 

I’m excited to see this storyline adapted, and Natalie Portman is a fantastic actress who will be able to handle the dramatic parts (and physical parts, easy to see if you saw her performance in Annihilation) but my main concern is Taika Waititi. I love his other work, but he spent most of Thor: Ragnarok erasing all the previous Thor movies and streamlining the character to be like all the other Marvel heroes, which I did not love. How are we supposed to root for Jane Foster when she’s been out of the movies for a while now, and her absence has been mined for a few jokes? 

There’s some great potential here to explore what it is like for a human to take the role previously held by a god, the difference between a man and a woman in the same role, and how Thor and Jane interact in their new roles, especially since they are no longer a couple (in the comics they don’t get back together). But will any of that be explored? I’m worried it won’t be.

The Thors aren’t the only characters in the movie, though. Tessa Thompson’s newly-appointed king of Asgard Valkyrie will return. Thompson said in the comic-con panel that since Valkyrie is the new king of Asgard, she’ll need a queen, confirming that she’ll finally be able to make Valkyrie bisexual as Thompson has been campaigning for since day 1. There is no confirmation on who this love interest will be. And since Waititi is scripting this time, expect Korg, his character, to have a larger role. 

Beyond Phase 4

Feige also confirmed at the San Diego Comic Con panel that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, now back at Marvel because of the Disney acquisition of Fox, will be coming after Phase 4, although in what capacity is still unknown. The mic drop of the announcement though has to go to Mahershala Ali being announced as the star of a new Blade movie. No further information about that property is known yet. At the D-23 Expo last weekend it was also announced that Moon Knight, Miss Marvel, and She-Hulk (finally!) Disney+ shows are in development, Black Panther 2 will come out May 6, 2022 with Ryan Coogler returning to direct, and Kit Harrington has joined the cast of The Eternals. 

Much of my research for both of these articles came from Grace Randolph from Beyond The Trailer.

Everything You Need to Know About Marvel’s Phase 4 (Part 1)

May 2020- May 2021

Image result for marvel phase 4 slate

In October of 2016 I broke down the future of Marvel movies and my predictions for what then was Phase 3. I was right about some things, wrong about others. But now at Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios announced their Phase 4 slate of films and Disney+ shows (Disney’s new streaming service, coming November 12th). Unlike the Netflix-Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Disney+ shows will tie into the movie universe, making all of our wallets bemoan. 

If you want to know all you have to look forward to for the next few years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka MCU (Phase 4 will cover 2020 to 2022 with ten projects in all), then I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. This is part one of two, covering the three films and two Disney+ show that will take us from May 2020 to early spring 2021. 

Black Widow

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  • May 1, 2020
  • Directed by Cate Shortland 
  • Starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Rachel Weisz as Melina, Florence Pugh as Yelena, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka The Red Guardian, and O-T Fagbenle as Mason/The Taskmaster.

Black Widow’s first solo movie and the MCU’s second female solo film will be a prequel, one of the MCU’s only. It will cover Natasha’s past, including what happened in Budapest, and the Red Room/ Black Widow Program, which we got glimpses of in Avengers: Age of Ultron

It looks like Natasha will be facing off against several villains. O-T Fagbenle’s Taskmaster has the power to completely replicate anything he sees, so if he’s fighting Natasha, he would be able to do every move she does, like she’s looking in a mirror. This leaves plenty of room for exciting action sequences. It was also confirmed that there will be a romance between the two of them, which…. whatever. 

Rachel Weisz’s role is Melina, and in the comics, Melina is also known as “The Iron Maiden,” a fellow graduate of the red room program who never is able to match Natasha and is overcome with jealousy. Weisz said in the panel that Melina goes through scientific experimentation in this film, giving her advanced powers that will make her a formidable foe to Nat. 

David Harbor is playing The Red Guardian, who is best known for being the Soviet Union’s counterpart to Captain America. Since Nat has such a good relationship with Steve Rodgers Captain America, there could be a lot of potential here to see her play with a similar dynamic with someone who represents her home country. 

Florence Pugh rounds out the cast as Yelena, who in the comics was a fellow Black Widow. Some fans think Yelena might take over the Black Widow mantle and take Natasha’s place. She’s a prime antihero candidate, and could possibly take a surrogate daughter kind of role for Natasha. 

While I want to be supportive of this film, it feels like too little too late. Johansson has waited patiently for ten years in the MCU, and she certainly deserves this, but the character has been so maligned for the past few films, and frankly, nothing here screams “unique!” I think going back to her roots will take us to femme-fatale Black Widow, like we saw in Iron Man 2, and I think that’s the worse version of the character. I don’t want to go back to that Black Widow, and despite the much more female-centric lense this one will be framing her in with a female director and Johansson in a much more powerful creative control, I’m sick of hot Russian spy action (I saw a good chunk of Red Sparrow through other passenger’s TVs on an airplane). Natasha has, despite her malignment, become a much more interesting character as of late, and this just feels like a regression. But I’ll try to stay optimistic. Having a prequel set the stage for Phase 4 seems like an odd choice, but it does fit in with the overall pulpier and riskier tone this slate of movies promises.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Show

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  • Fall 2020 (unspecified date). Filming begins this October.
  • 6 hour-long episodes
  • Malcolm Spellman (Empire) is the showrunner and all episodes are directed by Karl Skolang (Vikings). 
  • Starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barns/ The Winter Soldier, Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo, and Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter. 

The show picks up soon after the events of Endgame, and presumably will follow Sam Wilson taking up the mantle of Captain America, and Bucky, just, I don’t know, nagging him? I’m not a Bucky fan. Mackie is incredibly charismatic and he and Stan have good chemistry. It should be a fun romp and maybe be reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It doesn’t seem to, like the other shows, tie directly into any upcoming movies. If it doesn’t feel necessary to watch in order to understand the movies, then this might not be compelling enough to get Marvel fans to subscribe to Disney+, in which case it seems like a poor choice to be the first Marvel show on the streaming service. 

The Eternals

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  • November 6, 2020
  • Directed by Chloe Zhao
  • Starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia Mchugh, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee. 

The Eternals is a relatively unknown property, but that hasn’t stopped Marvel from making bank before! This film’s biggest hurdle will be convincing moviegoers to be interested in something they’ve probably never heard about. Let me help Marvel out a bit then by giving you some backstory.

In the comics, the Celestials created the immortal race known as the Eternals. The celestials were briefly introduced into the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, where Ego (Kurt Russel), aka Peter Quill/Starlord’s father, was one of them. Think of them as similar to the Titans in Greek mythology, with the Eternals then being the pantheon of gods. 

In this film, the Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years already, masquerading as humans. The movie will probably focus on the Eternals’ family-like dynamic and show them acting throughout history. 

All of the Eternals are immortal, have super strength, teleportation, telepathy, can fly, can shoot lasers from hands and eyes, and can make force fields. They’re powered by celestial energy, and if they run out of celestial energy, they become weakened. 

Salma Hayek will play Ajak, leader of the Eternals, and in the comics, Ajak is a man, making this a gender-bent role. Angelina Jolie will play Thena, who has ties to ancient Greece (get it, Thena, Athena?). Richard Madden will play Ikaris. Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo, a samurai swordsman turned Japanese superstar. Expect this to change, as Nanjiani is Pakistani. Brian Tyree Henry will play Phastos, an engineer and tech expert. Don Lee is playing Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is known for meddling in human affairs and could be an anti-hero or villain. 12-year-old Lia Mchugh is Sprite, another gender-bent character. As an eternal child, Sprite is a prankster inspired by Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, Lauren Ridloff rounds out the cast as McCary, another gender-bent character. Ridloff is deaf and the character will become so too, making McCary the MCU’s first deaf superhero (Hawkeye is deaf in the comics but not in the MCU). 

I’m unsure as to how these immortal gods will change up the MCU as we’ve known up to this point, but at least we know Marvel’s penchant for star-studded casts won’t change!

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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  • February 12, 2021
  • Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12– such a great film!!!!)
  • Starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Tony Leung as the Mandarin, and Awkwafina in an unknown role. 

China is a huge box-office market, the second biggest in the world behind the U.S. Shang-Chi is not only Marvel’s first Asian superhero, but also the studio’s first real effort to please Asian audiences. So far, though, it looks like there may be some problems. 

Shang-Chi is the hero son of villain Fu Manchu, who in the comics was a horribly racist stereotype and has a rough history. So the rumor is that in the film Shang-Chi will be the son of Tony Leung’s Mandarin instead (the real Mandarin, not the one from Iron Man 3). This already sets up a great dynamic- a superhero son breaking away from his supervillain dad. But here’s the catch: Tony Leung is a Chinese legend and incredibly respected action hero, and he’s the villain. Meanwhile, his hero son moves to America, making him Chinese-American (and Simu Liu, the actor, is Chinese-Canadian, his family having moved from China to Canada). In other words, the Chinese person that moves to the west is the hero, while the one who stays in China is the villain. As there are already sensitivities in China about Chinese people moving to America for better lives and education, this casting would seem to further this divide. Along with Awkwafina, who is American, and the director, who is American, all of the major players in this movie except the actor playing the villain are from the West. 

It’s a strange decision to cast Simu Liu, an unknown, as the hero when Marvel could have cast an actor from China’s film industry, who might still be an unknown to American audiences but would help bridge this divide. However, Liu is a great choice in other respects. He used to be a stuntman, ensuring some great action sequences, and has a great underdog story. He began campaigning for the role in 2014, tweeting Marvel multiple times since then asking for more Asian representation and offering himself up for a role. Shang Chi is a master martial artist and is in-tuned with his chi and his body, and doesn’t have a ton of other definable powers. I’m looking forward to seeing what Liu will bring to the role and how he does with the dramatic parts. 

Also cast is Awkwafina, who is on a major hot streak right now following her roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians with The Farewell. She could be playing Shang-Chi’s half-sister, Fah Lo Suee, or perhaps a love interest. 

The Ten Rings in the title refers to the terrorist group that kidnapped Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film, and have been alluded to in a few movies since. However, I expect this movie to move away from the terrorist angle and more into the “villainy” angle. The Ten Rings also refer to ten rings that the Mandarin wears, made out of alien tech and each having a different power. Sounds a little familiar… Infinity Stones, anyone? Despite some familiar tropes, I hope Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will break new ground for Marvel, not only in representation but also in storytelling and filmmaking. 

WandaVision Show

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  • Spring 2021
  • 6-8 episodes, the whole series will be 6 hours long. 
  • Jac Schaeffer will be showrunner. Schaeffer is the screenwriter for the Black Widow movie and will write the pilot for WandaVision
  • Starring Elizabeth Olson as Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff, Paul Bettany as Vision, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau

WandaVision will focus on the relationship between Wanda and Vision, which has been growing slowly throughout several movies but has a deep comic book history. In the comics, Wanda and Vision are a married couple, and Wanda creates for them out of her magic two children, Wiccan and Speed. Wiccan and Speed eventually join the Young Avengers team and are joined by Cassie Lang (Antman’s daughter, already introduced into the MCU) and Kate Bishop, who will be introduced in the Hawkeye miniseries. If the show introduces the two, we could be gearing up for a Young Avengers show or movie.

The biggest mystery in the show is the role of Monica Rambeau in all of it. Monica was introduced in Captain Marvel as the adorable daughter of Maria Rambeau (Carol’s best friend). Teyonah Parris will play her as an adult, who in the comics takes up the mantle of Captain Marvel. I can’t imagine she will be the same here though, so maybe she’s working for SHIELD? Or is doing some other kind of work that has her learning about/teaming up with Wanda and Vision? Or she could be her own fully-fledged hero, like she becomes in the comics under the name Photon.  

This show will take us straight to Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in May of 2021 and to the final part of the Phase 4 slate, which I’ll be covering next week.

Double Feature: Dora and the Lost City of Gold + Blinded By the Light

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

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The main issue with the new live-action Dora film is that it has an identity crisis: is it a movie version of the show, or is it a meta-commentary of the show, updated for an older audience? 

The film chooses to do both, to its detriment. There will be scenes where characters say something like, “Silly Dora, maps don’t talk,” or will make fun of Dora for speaking to the audience. But in the next scene, Boots the Monkey will talk, or something else magical will happen. Making fun of the central concept of the show is disrespectful because it not only insults its audience but also because the show is very good at what it does and is quality children’s entertainment. The movie ends up aiming young, so the meta-commentary isn’t even clever enough for fourteen-year-old edgelords. So if it’s not for older audiences, and it’s disrespectful to the young kids who watch the show, who is it for? The film never answers this question. 

But on the positive side, Isabela Moner is charming as Dora, taking the role seriously but with a twinkle in her eye, and is able to sell most of the antics and jokes. Michael Pena and Eva Longoria are lovely as her parents, and I found it refreshing to have two (living) parents who are shown to be deeply loving and respected, and even when they need to be saved by Dora, they are never made the butt of the joke. 

The entire Latinx cast is game and most are good, although sometimes they struggle with nailing the inconsistent tone. Jeff Wahlberg as Diego is the weakest link, and because there are too many characters, his traits are made nearly interchangeable with the other classmates on Dora’s trip, and a bafflingly unnecessary and dull “romance” doesn’t do him any favors. 

There were times I was a little bored, which made the hour and a half feel like two, but the young girl next to me was loving it. When Dora asks the audience in a fourth-wall break, “can you say neurotoxicity?” the girl very solemnly said out loud, “I can’t say that.” That was enough to charm me, and this movie is almost as charming. 

 

Blinded By the Light

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Blinded By the Light’s trailers do this film a great disservice. Whether you’ve seen the trailer a couple dozen times like my family has, or just once, the impression you’re likely given is, “It’s a feel good movie.” And while that isn’t bad within itself, the feel-good genre is predictable and can be a little stale, and a Pakistani boy from Thatcher’s Britain realizing his artistic dreams because of Bruce Springsteen had plenty of opportunities to be that. 

But Blinded By the Light, directed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha and based on the book by Sarfraz Manzoor, is not that. Yes, it may make you feel good, but it’s got some other things to say. For one thing, while it’s certainly in-love with Bruce Springsteen, it’s much more of a love letter to any pop culture that we use to communicate to others. We’ve all been in a place where we are able to relate to someone simply through our shared interests. When we aren’t able to say something straight, we may say it in the language of our favorite movie or musician or book, and usually we do that because that piece of media spoke deeply to us first. 

The film also has something more thoughtful to say about following your dreams them, “screw your family and do it.” It, like The Farewell, wrestles with the complications that come with being at the crossroads of collective vs individualist cultures, and reveals truths about both. Then it interprets Springsteen’s work into something universal and complex enough to speak to both cultures. 

Something not touched upon in the trailers that is present in the movie is the racism faced by the Pakistani characters. This racism was true of the time period but also looks a lot like racism around the world today. Further, Blinded By the Light, albeit very loosely, questions what it is like to be a person in an oppressed minority group who uses pop culture to escape the daily pressures of such oppression, yet that exact pop culture is made by someone from the dominant group that oppresses you. However, despite all of the difficulties endured by the characters in this film, it also has moments of uplifting hope and humor and whimsy that reminds us of the holistic lives of the characters.

I walked away from Blinded By the Light with an appreciation for The Boss, a Springsteen in my step, and something to think about.